Crist orders investigation into DOT ‘Wafflegate’by Dara Kam | December 15th, 2009
Gov. Charlie Crist ordered his inspector general to investigate the state’s top transportation officials’ use of code words in e-mails.
Crist made the request after Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink asked Crist for an internal investigation to find out if Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos (whom Crist appointed in 2007) and her deputy Kevin Thibault tried to hide their e-mails from public records review by giving the subject line of “pancake,” “pancakes” and “French Toast.”
The e-mails sent in November contained information about a proposed rail bill later approved by lawmakers during the special session that ended last week.
“Given our state’s proud and comprehensive public records laws, I remain concerned that DOT employees may have deliberately used these code words in an attempt to disguise their actions from the people of Florida. We live in the Sunshine State, and this is not the way the people’s business should ever be done,” Sink, the presumptive Democratic candidate for governor, wrote in a letter to Crist to Crist asking for the investigation.
Minutes after Sink’s office released her letter, Crist’s office sent out his response.
“I agree with the letter that was just received from Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink. Accordingly, I have directed Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel to conduct an inquiry of the Department of Transportation,” Crist said in a statement.
Crist’s order for an investigation came after numerous demands for an inquiry from other sources.
Tea Party activists also asked Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs to empanel a grand jury to look into the e-mails.
And Orlando activist and “Ax the Tax” Chairman Doug Guetzloe said he plans to ask Attorney General Bill McCollum’s office, which oversees the state’s Sunshine Laws, to investigate and to file an ethics complaint.
Sen. Paula Dockery obtained the messages through a public records request, one of several she has made over the past year in an attempt to learn more about a controversial deal she opposes in which the state will pay transportation behemoth CSX Inc. at least $420 million for 61 miles of railroad track around Orlando for a commuter rail project known as “SunRail.”
Dockery has criticized transportation officials because they have stymied her efforts to get information about the CSX deal. Her original public records request turned up only 121 e-mails from Kopelousos, Thibault and FDOT general counsel Alexis Yarbrough. After Dockery complained to Crist’s Office of Open Government, FDOT gave her more than 8,000 e-mails.
The e-mails with the breakfast food headings contained attachments answering anticipated questions from lawmakers and dealing with a proposed $2 rental car surcharge in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward counties to help pay for Tri-Rail.